Jayden Brunson knew something was amiss after the Ignacio High School girls basketball team was thrashed in an 18-point loss to Alamosa on Jan. 5 in the first game back from holiday break.
The following Monday, the sophomore guard called a team meeting to discuss what the team could do better.
“I just knew that we had to fix some things before it could get worse,” Brunson said. “I understand it. I mean, we’re girls; we’re teenage girls on a basketball team, so of course, we’re going to have a bit of attitude. It was just like reminding them that there’s no room for this if we have these goals we want to achieve.
“For me, personally, I was like, ‘We have zero room for error, and no time for any of this extra stuff.’ ... Once we talked about what needed to change, it’s like we suddenly just clicked. Three weeks later, we’re a new team.”
Brunson, daughter of Jaydee and Melanie Brunson, also talked about expectations with new head coach Justa Whitt, who is in her second stint with IHS.
In a team with three seniors, Whitt was impressed to see an underclassman speak up.
“She’s been trying to step up as a leader,” Whitt said. “She showed that by being one of the ones who called the team meeting to address our issues and move forward. It shows great growth for a young kid, and I think ... she’s at a stage where she needs to build some confidence, and she has become a great defensive player, but she still needs to grow in other areas like shooting and passing. But once she gets going, she’s on.”
Brunson was a freshman on last year’s team that reached the state tournament. In the 2A District 3 Tournament championship game, she scored a game-high 14 points for Ignacio against Dolores. Many of the Bobcats from that team returned this season.
“Having a year of experience has helped everybody, and with a big group of girls that has had that experience of going to state, some with two years, they understand how hard it is to get there,” Whitt said. “It helps us all around.”
Since the team meeting, practices have been more productive, team morale and chemistry has finally clicked and new offensive and defensive sets have improved.
Ignacio (8-4, 7-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) as it has won five consecutive games.
One area of the floor that Ignacio has succeeded in all season, has been its defense. The Bobcats have outscored their opponents by 209 points and have held opponents to under 30 points six times, including two games in which they held their opponents to less than 10 points.
“We’ve been working on defense since the season began,” Brunson said. “It’s always one of the things that coach has been stressing, and we want to continue to only get better as the season goes on.”
From a team meeting to the new coach, Brunson said the last two seasons have reminded her a lot of her favorite sports movie “Hoosiers.” The famed 1986 film stars Gene Hackman, a new coach in small-town, basketball-mad Indiana who leads a team of underdogs to a state championship title.
“We’ve got a new coach this year, and in our little town basketball is one of the things that brings everybody together,” Brunson said. “One of my favorite parts of the movie is when (Gene Hackman) measures the basket at the state championship and reminds them it’s still 10 feet. It was a similar moment for me last year. I was a freshman, and Ignacio was in the state tournament. It was so relatable, and I think given how we’re playing, we can definitely be the underdogs who make it back this year.”
Ignacio will look to continue winning ways on the road against Nucla at 2 p.m. Saturday.